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Installing Under-Cabinet Lights

Under-cabinet lighting sheds light where you need it most.

In older kitchens, most of the light comes from a single overhead fixture, supplemented by daylight from one or more windows. However, the strength of natural light is subject to the vagaries of time of day, sun exposure, season, and weather.

As a result, lighting is often scant when and where you really need it, particularly on countertops. The way to solve this problem is to mount lighting to the underside of overhead cabinets.

Under-cabinet lighting is available in a couple of varieties: fluorescent or halogen strips and individual “puck”-style halogen fixtures.

Fluorescent fixtures are less expensive than halogen, but halogen provides a light that more closely approximates sunlight. Both types of strips are extremely easy to install and can either plug into a receptacle or be wired to a wall switch.

Where some under-cabinet areas do not need an entire strip of lights, small, individual puck-shaped halogen lights are ideal. Puck lights are available in packs of two or more and can be mounted exactly where you need them, then easily wired together with the snap-together fittings provided in the kit. The last puck in the string is connected to a low-voltage transformer, which is plugged into a nearby receptacle.

 

Here’s how to install a strip of under-cabinet lights:

Determine the best placement of the under-cabinet light.

1If your upper cabinets are wide or your base cabinets are narrow, plug in and turn on the light strip, and then move it around under the cabinet to determine its best location.

Most under-cabinet light manufacturers recommend installing a strip as close to the front of the cabinet as possible for optimal coverage of the area below. Keep in mind that the light’s cord will need to be attached to the underside of the cabinets and routed to an electrical outlet.

You may also need to make a valance if the light is very visible at eye level.

Mark through the mounting holes to determine screw locations.

 

2Once you’ve identified the ideal place for the strip, follow the manufacturer’s directions for marking the holes for the mounting hardware. Some manufacturers provide a paper template for this; others simply direct you to hold the strip in place and mark through the mounting holes onto the underside of the cabinet.

 

 

 

Mount the light with screws.

3After you’ve marked the locations for the mounting screws (provided with the light strip), drill pilot holes, and then drive the screws into the bottom of the cabinet. (Depending on the thickness of the cabinet bottom, you may need to add a washer or two to the mounting screws to prevent them from poking up through the cabinet. Alternatively, you can use shorter screws.) Install the strip and plug it in. Fluorescent fixtures can plug right into a receptacle; halogen fixtures usually come with a low-voltage transformer that plugs into a receptacle.

 

If necessary, install a valance.

4Finally, check to see if the light strip is visible at eye level. If it is, make a valance from a 1/2-inch wood strip 1 to 2 inches wide and the length of the fixture. Finish it to match your cabinetry, and then glue and nail or screw the valance to the bottom front edge of the cabinet. Not only will a valance hide the fixture, but it will also prevent glare.

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How to Install Recessed Lights

In new construction, recessed lighting is easy to install because the housing is mounted with nail-on flanges.Joy Fera / Shutterstock.com

In new construction, recessed lighting is easy to install because the housing is mounted with nail-on flanges.

Recessed lighting can be a subtle yet effective way to add ambient lighting to a room or to highlight specific portions of it. Relatively inexpensive and easy to install, recessed lighting is an option that should always be considered when choosing to add light to a living space.

install recessed lights

Many styles of recessed lighting are available at home improvement centers.

Recessed downlights are usually pre-wired and grounded to their housing boxes. Older-style downlights, however, may require wiring into a junction box attached to a ceiling joist. Keep in mind that downlights produce a lot of heat. To compensate for this, you must:

• Buy an IC-rated fixture for a direct-contact installation.

• Remove insulation within 3 inches of the fixture.

• Use special low-clearance downlights if the clearance above the fixture is tight.

• Keep combustible materials 1/2 inch or more from the fixture (with the exception of joists or other blocking used for support).

As always whenever performing electrical work, make sure the power supply is turned off to the area. Use a circuit tester (also called a neon tester) to confirm that the circuit is dead.

Hold back insulation from recessed lights in the ceiling beneath the attic floor. Photo: Johns ManvilleJohns Manville

Hold back insulation from recessed lights in the ceiling beneath the attic floor.

Installing a New-Work Downlight with a Box

Installing a standard new-work downlight fixture is a simple process in new construction. This kind of fixture easily fastens to ceiling joists with an adjustable hanger bar. Once the ceiling is in place, fixture trim is added as the finishing touch.

Note: Do not allow insulation to crowd the housing of the recessed light. To prevent heat build-up—and possible fire—insulation must be held back as shown in the photograph.

Please check out this video, put out by Halo, the leading manufacturer of recessed lights:

 

Wiring an Old-Work Downlight

If you don’t have access from above the ceiling, you will have to use an old-work fixture installed from below. Before beginning installation, you will need to locate a space between two ceiling joists. Once you have, here is how to install the downlight:

1Make the connections. First, cut an access hole in the ceiling (use the paper template included with the fixture), and remove the cover plate on the mounting box. Next, splice the fixture wires to the incoming circuit wires—black to black, white to white, green or bare fixture wire to the grounding wire for the circuit. Replace the cover plate on the mounting box.[GARD align=”right”]

2Slip the fixture into position. Gently maneuver the fixture, junction box first, into the access hole in the ceiling. Different fixtures employ different attachment methods; consult the directions included with the particular fixture you have chosen.

3Add the trim. Screw a lightbulb into the fixture socket and add the light fixture’s trim; this trim not only hides the rough edges around the hole in the ceiling but also helps diffuse the light coming out of the fixture.

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How to Install Fluorescent Lights

Installing a fluorescent light is a simple procedure with dramatic results.

To mount a typical fluorescent ceiling fixture, first use a stud finder to find ceiling joists. If none are available where you wish to hang the fixture, you can use toggle bolts to anchor it in the drywall. Either way, make sure your drill and hardware are accessible. Shut off the power to the circuit before doing any work on the fixture.

1First, remove the cover and make any connections within the fixture, as specified by the manufacturer. Use wire nuts for splices. You may also need to add pigtails and a grounding jumper to bridge the gaps between internal fixture wires and the point where cable enters the fixture.

2Open up a knockout in the fixture canopy, and then feed incoming wires through the hole. This fixture is mounted directly below a ceiling box; if your fixture is not, plan to secure cable to a smaller knockout with a metal cable clamp.

3If possible, drive screws through the fixture canopy and into the ceiling joists. If the joists do not align with the fixture, secure the fixture to the ceiling material with toggle bolts.[GARD align=”left”]

4Splice the fixture’s black lead to the circuit’s black hot wire and the white fixture lead to the incoming white neutral wire. If there is a green circuit grounding wire, wrap it about the fixture’s grounding screw. Secure it by tightening the screw.

5Finally, slip the ends of the fluorescent tubes into the tube holders, and then add the diffusing panel atop the tubes. Like this one, most diffusing panels simply snap into place. Restore power, and test out your new light.

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How to Install Track Lighting

Smack dab in the center of many ceilings hangs a rather prosaic light fixture. Typically, this fixture wishy-washes a room with an overall glow. It makes the room usable but adds very little character, contrast, or lighting interest. If your home has one of these, maybe it’s time for a makeover.

Track lighting is sold in many types and styles.

Track lighting is sold in many types and styles.

We removed an outdated pendant light and mounted a 4-foot Halo “Miniature Trac” fitted with three solid-state, low-voltage transformers and lampholders. We chose low-voltage lighting for its energy efficiency, the control over “beam spread” that low-voltage lamps offer, and the “white” color of the light. Incandescent lampholders could be substituted for low-voltage. For either, you can get a broad range of lampholder styles and bulbs at lighting retailers.

Available fixtures are only part of a track lighting system’s flexibility. You can mount lampholders anywhere along a ceiling- mounted (or wall-mounted) track’s length, route track in nearly any direction, and control fixtures so they cast light only where you want it.

Placing the Fixture

If an existing electrical box isn’t placed in an ideal location for lighting, you can either check with an electrician about running a new circuit, or you can take advantage of special track connectors to route the track from an existing box (you can buy straight, L, T, cross, and adjustable angle connectors). This Halo track receives its power through a connector that locks into the track anywhere along its length, offering a measure of lateral adjustability. You can also power a track from one end, with a live-end connector. Or, you can power the track from an electrical outlet with a cord and a 3-pronged plug connector.

Mounting the Track

Proper choice and placement of fixtures can be tricky. For a complicated lighting scheme, you may want to find professional help. Some interior designers specialize in lighting design, and some quality lighting retailers offer skilled lighting consultants.

Tools & Materials

Supplies for this system include: one 4-foot track with toggle bolts and dead-end connectors; a floating canopy, a mounting bracket and connector; three solid-state low-voltage transformers, gimbal-ring lampholders, and 25W PAR 36 lamps.

You’ll need only a few tools: a measuring tape, a pencil, a drill with a 1/2-inch bit, Phillips and flat-blade screwdrivers, and wire cutters or needle-nosed pliers.

Calculating Electrical Load

Be sure your new lights won’t exceed the house circuit’s electrical capacity (often 15 amps). This generally isn’t a problem with a small low-voltage system, but incandescent lights may overload your circuit. Before installing, check your circuit for its amperage rating. Add up all appliances and lights drawing power from that circuit to figure the overall requirements. If this sounds confusing, be sure to get help from your lighting retailer or a qualified electrician. To increase lighting control for more drama, also consider getting a quality dimmer switch (a standard incandescent dimmer can be used with these solid-state transformers).

Also don’t overload the track: The one we chose can handle a maximum electrical capacity of 20 amps per circuit if wired directly to an electrical box or 10 amps if a cord and plug-in connector are used.

Adding the Trim and Fixtures

Installation Steps

As with all electrical work, it’s important to check with your local building department for code requirements. Before doing any work, be sure to shut off the power to the light—not just at the light switch, but at the fuse box or circuit breaker.

1After disconnecting the old lamp, make sure the wires are suitable for connection. If necessary, clip the ends and strip off 1/2 inch of insulation. Strip the ends of new wires if they’re not already stripped. Connect white wire to white and black to black. Ground the fixture’s green wire to the house system’s green wire, to an electrical ground wire, or to the metal electrical box (according to code). After you’ve tightened wire nuts onto the joined wire ends, gently push excess wires back into the outlet box to get them out of the way.

2Before you screw the new mounting bracket to the electrical box, touch up the ceiling around the box with paint, if necessary. Be sure to orient the bracket so the track will run the proper direction. It may be necessary to buy an adapter to modify your electrical box’s hole spacing so that it matches the mounting bracket’s holes.

3This type of track can be cut to length with a hacksaw before mounting. Cut the track 1/8 inch shorter than the required dimension (to allow for the dead-end fitting). Following the manufacturer’s directions, pull out two copper conductors about 5/16 inch and cut them off; do not cut the insulators.

4Push the conductors back into the insulators, and then add the dead-end fitting. Whether or not you cut a track to length, put dead-end fittings into the open ends of the track before attaching the track to the ceiling.

5The track can be mounted to drywall or plaster with toggle bolts or screwed directly to solid wood. Before drilling holes for toggle bolts (or screw pilot holes), double check the track’s location.

6Before you plug lampholders, transformers, or the power supply into the track, note that the track has a polarity line running along its length. Each lampholder and transformer also has a polarity line for reference. Be sure to install each fixture and transformer so that its polarity line aligns with the track’s line.

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How to Install Vanity Lights

One simple way to brighten up a bathroom is to install new lighting. Replacing a vanity light also allows you to upgrade a key element of your bathroom’s decor. Vanity lights come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes; all are easy to install over an existing electrical box, requiring less than an hour from start to finish.vanity-light-installation

Some electrical boxes are located directly above a mirror or medicine cabinet, others—like the one shown here—are at each side.

Before purchasing a fixture, make sure it will fit the space without bumping into an adjacent wall or interfering with a mirror or trim. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions precisely. To create strong but gentle light that doesn’t cast shadows, choose a fixture that utilizes halogen bulbs and has a frosted diffuser.

Before you begin any work, turn off the power to the existing fixture at the electrical service panel. Remove the globe or diffuser and the bulb(s). Unscrew the retaining nut that holds the decorative cover plate onto the electrical box.[GARD align=”left”]

If the old fixture doesn’t come off easily, run the blade of a utility or putty knife around the edges of the plate to free it from caulk or paint. Disconnect the wiring and set the fixture aside.

Quick tip: To create strong but gentle light that doesn’t cast shadows, choose a fixture that utilizes halogen bulbs and has a frosted diffuser.

 

1) Install the mounting strap.

1In older homes, incandescent light fixtures are often mounted directly to an electrical box. Electrical codes now require that the fixture be mounted to a flat metal bar called a mounting strap that is secured to the box. Most new fixtures include the mounting strap and screws.

 

2) Connect the wires.

2Before installing the fixture, inspect the wires coming out of the box. If the ends are nicked or tarnished, cut them and strip off 1/2 inch of the insulation with a wire stripper. Then, following the manufacturer’s instructions, attach the fixture’s wires to the circuit wires with the nuts provided.

 

 

3) Ground the fixture.

3All lighting should be properly grounded. This is particularly important in a bathroom, where the chance of electrical shock is higher than in other rooms because of the presence of water. In hooking up the ground wire, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. On many lights, you’ll hook the ground wire to the mounting strap, as shown.

 

4) Mount fixture to box.

4Mount the fixture to the box as directed by the manufacturer. Finally, screw in the appropriate bulbs, making sure their wattage does not exceed the maximum allowable for the fixture. Attach the diffuser, which typically is held in place with a decorative cap or retaining nut. Tighten only friction-tight to avoid cracking the diffuser.

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How to Install Vanity Sconce Lights

vanity-light-installation

1) Install the mounting strap.[/caption]

1In older homes, incandescent light fixtures are often mounted directly to an electrical box. Electrical codes now require that the fixture be mounted to a flat metal bar called a mounting strap that is secured to the box. Most new fixtures include the mounting strap and screws.

 

2) Connect the wires.

2Before installing the fixture, inspect the wires coming out of the box. If the ends are nicked or tarnished, cut them and strip off 1/2 inch of the insulation with a wire stripper. Then, following the manufacturer’s instructions, attach the fixture’s wires to the circuit wires with the nuts provided.

 

 

3) Ground the fixture.

3All lighting should be properly grounded. This is particularly important in a bathroom, where the chance of electrical shock is higher than in other rooms because of the presence of water. In hooking up the ground wire, make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. On many lights, you’ll hook the ground wire to the mounting strap, as shown.

 

4) Mount fixture to box.

4Mount the fixture to the box as directed by the manufacturer. Finally, screw in the appropriate bulbs, making sure their wattage does not exceed the maximum allowable for the fixture. Attach the diffuser, which typically is held in place with a decorative cap or retaining nut. Tighten only friction-tight to avoid cracking the diffuser.

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